It might sound like a strange combination – happiness, positive psychology, and centenarians – but it’s not. Largely thanks to improved sanitation and nutrition, the number of centenarians is on the rise. Indeed, the number of 100-year-old Americans has roughly doubled over the last two decades. Moreover, the total number could increase to nearly 600,000 by 2060.
Now, many of us joke that, without being able to indulge in certain of our worst habits (like bacon, beer, and barbecue just to name a few), who would want to live that long? Even though we express it jokingly, it’s fundamentally a statement about what we want from our quality of life. Anyone who aspires to be a centenarian isn’t talking about living past the ability to function in the world either physically or mentally; we imagine that we will be healthy, financially secure, and—of course—happy.
The idea of “happiness” as a feeling doesn’t really capture what we’re after, though, because that kind of happiness is fleeting. We can be euphorically happy one second and, based on what happens in the next second, we might be cataclysmically depressed. Anyone who has lived very long at all knows that things happen—most of them far outside our control—that are anything but happy.
Therefore, when we think about what we would want from—and associate with—a long life, we don’t just want the good feelings that positive psychologists call hedonia, borrowing from ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle. We also want happiness that is genuine, deeper, and lasting: we want eudaimonia or flourishing.
Eudaimonic happiness, as opposed to hedonic happiness, doesn’t depend on fleeting feelings, but on things like wisdom, a sense of meaning and purpose in life, and positive relationships with others. It’s not just feeling well, but also the ability to live well, in a way that is in line with our own best interests and that of others.
Over a lifespan of a hundred years, centenarians will certainly experience losses. With wisdom, we can start to understand that it’s not the inevitable losses we incur, but our response to them, that makes the difference in our quality of life. With basic values and a sense of meaning in our life, we can ensure that our long lifespan will be put to good use: that it will benefit others and not only ourselves. And with positive relationships, we can ensure that we will live out our later days not in loneliness and regret, but in community and deep connection with others. In fact, research shows that if we lack these basic qualities of eudaimonia, not only will we not have the same quality of life, we are not likely to have the same quantity of life, either.
That’s where positive psychology comes in. Unlike areas of psychology that focus on average or abnormal performance, positive psychology explores ways we can improve average performance from the middle of the curve and move it into the range of the exceptional. According to the Positive Psychology Center (founded by one of the fathers of positive psychology, Martin P. Seligman), “Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.” That’s certainly a life anyone aspiring to live to a hundred would want to live, isn’t it?
Throughout this website are actions and activities that you can add to your lifestyle that will increase your ability to live to a ripe, productive old age, and to enjoy the journey. Not every activity will resonate with you; the idea is to try each of the activities or actions on for size – and give each one a real chance before deciding it’s not for you – and then moving on to the next. According to the Mayo Clinic, it shouldn’t be long before you start to recognize positive changes in yourself and your relationships. You may notice that you’re able to more easily maintain calm in favor of giving in to irritation – or withhold judgment in favor of curiosity – or feel a greater sense of thriving in an ever-changing world in favor of feeling victimized by it.
Along with regular chiropractic care clearing your nervous system of interference, and good nutrition clearing your digestive system of interference, adopting an openness to the positive impact of compassion, meditation, forgiveness, mindfulness and optimism may be an indispensable factor in the 100 Year Lifestyle. Not only will you be more likely to achieve a hundred-year lifetime, you’ll be more likely to enjoy each and every one of those years.
Contributed by Rebecca Koch and Brendan Ozawa-de Silva, Ph.D.
Reprinted with permission from Life University Positive Psychology Department